Article By: Chahine Sidik

Cartier Santos Dumont – since 1904, this particular watch been an icon, a huge commercial success of the 80’s with a rich history, a watch equally as important for Cartier and haute horlogerie as it was for the aviation field, being the first ever pilot’s watch.

The watch’s history goes back to the beginning of the last century, when Louis Cartier’s friend Alberto Santos Dumont was complaining about the fact he was unable to read the time while flying. This motivated Louis Cartier to create the first modern wrist watch, a piece that could be worn by his friend while flying without requiring any fiddling around with something in his pockets to keep track of the time.

Left: Alberto Santos Dumont | Right: Cartier Santos Dumont 1915 Cartier
Source: Nick Walsh, Cartier Collection

From Brazil, his birthplace, and where an airport is named after him and Paris, where he met Louis Cartier, shaped modern “Cartier” brand and where a street is named after him, to space (which is irrelevant but still, he had a space mission named after him…and that’s pretty awesome).

Mr. Santos Dumont was a man of a great style. During his time in Paris, men noticed his sense of fashion and his style became desirable , similar to the influence of Steve McQueen or James Bond.

He was also a man with a great network and knew the most influential men of his time – Gustave Eiffel, Jules Verne and, of course, Louis Cartier.

In 1904, Louis Cartier, with the help of the master watchmaker Edmond Jaeger, created the Cartier Santos Dumont. The piece was the first ever watch designed for pilots, giving them the ability to read the time while keeping hands on the controls of their flights. That’s right – the first ever wrist watch was a pilot’s watch.

After Santos Dumont’s flight in 1906, people began to notice his watch. People hounded Cartier for their own model. Cartier sold a few of them to very few people on special order in 1908 as a sort of test run. And then, Cartier sold at 800 pieces between 1911 and 1973.

Five years later, the Cartier Santos was back and, being a pilot’s watch, she was officially launched at an event located within an airport. So subtle.

From then, the watch became a cult icon. Along with the Cartier Love bracelet, the watch became a style statement and even a symbol of success, appearing in such films as the 1988 Oliver Stone movie Wall Street. In the film, Michael Douglas, portraying the golden boy Gordon Gekko, wore an amazing yellow gold Cartier Santos.

In the same movie, another Cartier can be spotted, a magnificent Panthère de Cartier on the wrist of Bud Fox, portrayed by Charlie Sheen.

Not only a style icon, the Santos also is a statement of horology. In 1991, they released the Santos Ronde Chronoreflex, a chronograph with the smallest perpetual calendar module ever inside. With that move, Cartier proved that they still had amazing watchmaking skills and a brand with a willingness to go forward, rather than being viewed as what would today be considered a fashion brand.


The line grew up since 1978, with the Cartier Santos 100 to celebrate its 100th anniversary this year, along with tons of skeleton-dial variations. The watch has always been in the collection, but this year at SIHH 2018, they announced they were replacing the Cartier Santos 100 collection with a new one.

Cartier Santos Line
Source: Cartier

They are going back to the roots of the Santos and it looks stunning – the screwed bezel and the screwed bracelet looks classical and amazingly elegant. The new design is paired with a new 1847MC in house movement, and a new toolless bracelet changing system that is probably not as important as the movement, but as I love changing straps, it’s a cool little extra.

Source: Cartier

SIHH 2018 and Cartier’s new line up was just a pretext, as far as I’m concerned, for me to share with you the passion and love that I have for this watch in particular, and for Cartier in general. They have always been a brand that teeters on the edge of horological significance in the eyes of the public, but in truth, there would be no modern horology without Louis Cartier, and his friend Alberto.